ATLANTA - Georgia House and Senate leaders say public outrage over the Michael Vick animal cruelty case could galvanize support for anti-dogfighting legislation that has been languishing in the General Assembly.
"It's horrifying," House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said Thursday after reading the allegations against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback in a federal indictment handed down this week.
"I don't know if they're true or not. If they are, it's hard to imagine human beings doing that to animals."
Vick and three others were indicted Tuesday on conspiracy charges related to their alleged involvement in an illegal dogfighting business operating on property Vick owned in rural Surry County, Va.
Among the allegations are that the defendants sometimes executed losing animals who weren't killed in a fight.
The public response was so overwhelming that the "Donations" and "Take Action" sections of the Humane Society's Web site were temporarily swamped on Wednesday and had to shut down.
Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, who has pushed an anti-dogfighting bill in the Senate during the last two sessions, said the Vick case has brought into the public eye a problem that, unfortunately, is widespread.
"The fighting and maiming of dogs that allegedly occurred on Michael Vick's property in Virginia can also be found all across metro Atlanta on a weekly basis," Rogers said. "Sadly, Georgia remains one of the last states ... where those persons intimately involved in this dangerous activity can go unpunished."
Georgia is one of only two states where dogfighting is a misdemeanor.
Rogers' bill would upgrade the crime to a felony and cast a wider net. Rather than being limited to owners of fighting dogs, the legislation would also apply to trainers and to those who host, promote or attend dog fights.
"It's like drugs," said Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, who introduced a similar bill in the House this year. "You can get the drug dealers, but you've got to charge the users, too."
The Senate passed Rogers' bill unanimously last March but it wasn't taken up by the House.
Reese's bill passed the House Judiciary Committee but didn't reach the floor for a vote.
Reese said he plans to push for a hearing on his legislation before the General Assembly convenes in January.
"I'm feeling very good about it," he said. "I think the public outcry is going to make something happen."